Sunday, April 28, 2013

American ♫ Desi Girl ♫

Chapter 9

I’m Melting! I’m Melting!
- A Melting Pot Intervention

Things were getting crazy around the house. Papa would be gone six weeks straight building weatherproof homes in the Florida Keys that he was getting very famous for. The incoming wealth was a good fringe benefit but the family paid a huge price having him gone for days like this. The old patriarch Dadaji (not everybody’s grandfather but somehow that’s what everybody called him) was visiting from the old country. He had come for a bypass surgery, his arteries very fragile with medication and four strokes. With him came his son who helped him and took care of him as needed. The grandson who came with them was the same age as A and got along very well with the children and adapted to their ways in a day, and said “Birdie Num Num” at odd moments. An older grandson, a sophomore at a fancy university in California was also visiting. He helped a lot with the driving and running errands or Mama would’ve never been able to get everybody where they needed to be on time. Not with the LP having intensive training through summer.

A friend had just dropped her off and Mama was just giving dinner finishing touches. She’d outdone herself with a new heart healthy recipe for navratan curry.

The LP walked up to Mama and gave her a big hug and a “Mama I love you.” Ravenous after a day at camp she opened the fridge and rummaged in it and poked her head out, “There’s nothing to eat.”
“I just cooked navratan curry and rice. You’ll love it. It’s flavorful and not too rich or spicy. And do you know what navratan means? It means nine jewels. You make this curry with an elegant sauce and nine different vegetables.”
“The LP stirred the pot trying to identify each ingredient and said, “Eeww, pineapple. Not in a curry Mama.”
“Just try it.”
“No offence Mama but I’m an American. I like real American food. I don’t eat this stuff. I do love the two minute masala noodles you cook. Did you make any today?”
“Look in the fridge again,” said Mama offended.
“There’s yesterday’s spaghetti, salsa and cheese, old wontons, stale jerk chicken and some rotten parfait. I told you there’s nothing to eat.”
“Wash your hands and sit with Dadaji and eat.”

The LP took a small serving of curry and rice and sat down at the table. She took two bites of her dinner and said, “It is delicious. But I really can’t eat it now. It’s time for American Idol. I’ll eat at nine.”
B took the cue from her and said, “It’s delicious but I don’t want to eat it.”
“The boys are watching football,” said Mama as the LP walked away.
“That was a recording. Perdue won,” she replied.

Mama was getting quite upset at having slaved for hours only to have to throw it all away.

Dadaji munched slowly. He wore dentures. Mama made one last attempt to salvage her self image as chef and made the mistake of asking him if he liked the curry. It was healthy too.

Dadaji thought for a few minutes and said, “Beta angrez doodh se malaai aur malaai se makkhan tak jaante hain. Ghee kaise banti hai unhein pataa hi nahin. Kaun kehta hai bhartiya sabhyata paashchatya sabhyata se peeche hai? (The British/ White people know how to extract cream from milk and then make butter from cream. They don’t know how clarified butter is made. Who says Indian civilization lags behind western civilization?) ”

There was nothing left to say so she said nothing.

She ate, put the leftovers away and went to the basement to check on the kids. Their big cousin bro had finagled a way of getting some dinner into them - fried chicken from the grocer down the street. Of course the baby green beans and corn bread were in the trash already but never mind. They didn’t know the value of a dollar yet, or the value of a good looking artery.

The phone rang. It was the meddlesome aunt from Dadaji’s hometown enquiring if he was well looked after. Then she said it was such a shame A and B lost both parents so young. Theirs seemed to be a cursed family, four people dying much before their time in three years, leaving behind young defenseless children. “But look at the bright side, you have two sons now. Who knows if you could ever have had any more of your own, and even if you did they’d probably be all girls,” she said and drove Mama over the edge.
“I am very proud of my daughter. And all the girls in the family,” she said.
“But be careful. My husband’s first cousin’s son who went to vilaayat (abroad) to study just came back with a husband. They live shamelessly as husband and wife. You need to give your sons all kinds of education. In the west you have all sorts of problems.”
“They are wonderful children and I will accept them as they are. This has nothing to do with the east or the west. It just is so.”
“How’s your weight problem? Getting fatter with age? You must be on the verge of the change now, hanh?”

Mama said she had to go and hung up. You can only put up with so much in a day.

The LP had finished eating and washed her hands and now sat down next to Mama and said, “I need to learn Ruski or I can’t skate anymore.”
“What do you mean?”
“My coach said if you can’t speak Ruski you can’t expect to skate.”
“Whatever did he say that for? Did he say that to just you or every body else as well?”
“He said that to the assistant coach.”
“Oh, okay”, said Mama, getting the picture. “Don’t worry about it. You never did learn any Hindi in your two years at Baal Vihaar. Don’t worry about Ruski now. You’ll be fine. Just do a good job at camp every day and don’t eavesdrop on your teachers.”

Mama had seen an incident or two between the head coach and assistant coach. The older was newly arrived from a very prestigious skating school behind what used to be the iron curtain. Glasnost had passed him by while he honed the skills of many a medalist, a dedicated teacher who lived, breathed, ate, and slept skating. You felt a certain awe in his presence, the kind you feel in the vicinity of greatness. The younger was from the same town, a new fangled, widely traveled, well assimilated sort who twenty-five years ago might’ve been labeled a product of Coca Cola City. When they clashed they started out in their native language and needing support from others nearby the younger would hopelessly break into English, or so it seemed. The last time she had seen them arguing it had ended with the younger saying, “Why don’t you elevate the urinals also? That way they can always be on their toes,” and walking off in a huff slamming the door behind him.

While Mama and the LP sat on the gossip bench, the boys huddled together talking and she heard a little snippet of their conversation. Big cousin bro from California said growing up in Cerritos was difficult because he was brown. He’d like to lighten his line. Fortunately nobody asked him what that meant.

The LP asked,” May I please go back to Baal Vihaar. I could try to learn Hindi again? I’m older and smarter now.”
“Why this sudden interest in languages princess?”
“Because E always says something to me in Hindi every time she walks past me.”
“What does she say?”
“I don’t know.”
“Ask her to say it in English.”
“Well, she did say something in English today but I don’t know what it means.”
“And what was that she said?”
“She said when I grow up she’ll watch me getting knocked up and then begging for more.”

There was shock and awe in the room. Mama seldom raised her soft voice so this merited attention.

“Where is John Galt when you really need him?” thought Mama to herself. Her head was spinning.
“What does knocked up mean?” asked the LP and didn’t press for an answer when she looked again at Mama’s face. Nobody else supplied the answer either.

Mama thought about speaking with E’s mother about this but later decided to not do so. The apple does not roll too far from the tree usually. E’s mother was quite a piece of work and not infirm of purpose. E was pretty but looked like she could eat you alive and completely digest you in a few minutes like a shark could, and was three whole years older than the LP. Mama knew she would have to watch this carefully because the girls would very likely end up on the same team the whole year and would train and travel together.

“What else has she said to you?” asked Mama curious if the LP might have misheard E.
“She said I was born unlucky and it shows on my face. That is why I always get silver and never gold. She said she was born lucky and would one day be weighed in gold, she’d be that rich. But I’d always be poor. And she laughs and laughs and laughs at me like I’m the funniest person in the world. She laughs at me when I mess up and when I don’t. Some laugh at me with her but now most have stopped because she does similar things to them too. But I am the most funniest to her. I can handle it when I’m on the ice because then there’s just the ice and me, but when I step off the ice it starts to hurt sometimes.”
“Poor baby you. Tell me everything you can remember so I have a clear and complete image of what you are dealing with.”
“She said I was a mixed breed so no one would ever like me. She was loved by every body because her family was pure bred.”

Mama was getting grave. “Tell me everything you can remember. I know it is tempting to just forget, but unless we remember we cannot understand.”
“That is about the kind of thing she says to me every day. And she says we’re best friends and sisters and we must always hang out together. She always says bad things about every body and everything to me and tells every one I said it. And then she says something in Hindi that I can’t remember. And yes, she told Y on the boys’ team that I like him but I don’t. She actually told the whole camp that, teachers, counselors, all, and sometimes Y acts a little strange around me and I don’t like it. He’s fifteen. Does knocked up mean beat up?”
“No it does not. I’ll explain tomorrow. Now get to sleep.”

Mama had heard enough. It was after ten in the night so it would have to wait until morning.

Head coach called and asked for Papa. Mama told him he was away on a business trip so he asked her for a number to call him at. She asked to know what the matter was, wondering if it was a serious matter, with him calling after ten thirty in the night. He said he thought he might need to speak with the man of the house since they would have to make a financial decision about the upcoming year. Mama about exploded internally but didn’t show it. She said she’d come in in the morning and take care of it.

Bright and early she woke up inspired to recalibrate a few brains around her. She decided Coach’s would have to be the first. “Who does that Svengali think he is? America loves Smirnoff. Wake up and smell the coffee. In America we are all equal in the eyes of the law and in my eyes too. And should be in yours too.”

She couldn’t possibly do this to Dadaji, not with his bypass barely on the mend. And if you could for a moment ignore the fact Coach was white he was a great stand-in for Dadaji, looked just like him, was about the same age, was as lovable and as insufferable as he was, and about as much a misogynist. She had it all planned out. Mama had a vision of herself in a Bugs Bunny suit. As she walked into his office she could almost see him tiptoeing in brown shoes saying, “Shhhh. Be vewy, vewy quiet. We’re hunting Elmers.”

“I’m melting! I’m melting” — quote from “Wizard Of Oz”
Unless we remember we cannot understand. – E M Forster quote
John Galt — character in Ayn Rand’s book “Atlas Shrugged”
Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd —- cartoons

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